Photography by Owen Jones.

Little Forest Hills neighbor Gene Davis didn’t think the pack of middle schoolers stuck in the library would appreciate his usual setlist about butterflies, llamas and bubbles. Instead, he freestyle rapped Drake for half an hour as the students shook their heads.

As the lead singer of the “kindie” band, The Que Pastas, Davis is more accustomed to toddlers on a sugar rush than brooding teens. But after eight years and 400 shows, a tough crowd doesn’t faze him.

“It’s hard to get ‘shook’ anymore,” Davis says. “That was the all-time-low show, but it was also kind of hilarious. We entertain ourselves.”

By day, Davis works as the communications director at Dallas ISD. On the weekends, he lives his Guns N’ Roses dream with his music partner Simon Flory. 

Together, they travel across the United States performing kid songs at birthday parties, libraries and festivals. And they did it before Chris Pratt made it cool as Johnny Karate on the comedy sitcom “Parks and Recreation.”

“With kid songs, you can write about anything you can possibly think of,” Davis says. “It’s a fun, magical door to go through. You can be inspired by anything.”

Davis wrote his first kindie song in 2010 after performing a late-night show with a local alt-country band in Colorado. When he got home, he played a riff on his guitar that he can only describe as “piratey.” He then stayed up until 3 a.m. writing a song about a pirate fighting a robot cowboy. 

Inspiration struck again when he watched “Encino Man,” a 1990s film about a teen who finds a caveman in a block of ice. Davis swapped the caveman with a pirate and featured the plot in his song “Pirate from the Past.” 

The Que Pastas have also cooked up originals about White Rock Lake, playing hide-and-seek in IKEA and the Wednesday night enchilada special at El Fenix. The goal is to write songs that delight children without making parents want to stick their head in a blender. 

A month after Davis wrote his first kindie song, a stroke of luck helped get The Que Pastas off the ground. While on vacation in Colorado, he won $8,300 off a slot machine. He used a small chunk to record his songs, build a website and make a music video. 

He later met Flory through a Craigslist ad, and they released their first album, “Sunglasses,” in 2013. Their second album, “Meet You By The Moon,” followed in 2016. 

Despite stiff competition from bounce houses and costumed Disney characters at gigs, The Que Pastas have learned to capture young spectators with lots of clapping, singing and audience participation. They’ve been so successful, The Austin Chronicle charged them with starting a “tot mosh” during a show in 2016.

The band plays more than 100 shows a year at small venues in small towns, which allows the performers to build relationships with the audience when they return in subsequent years.

“The best thing in the world is when you play a show with kids and families from all different backgrounds, all different ethnicities, all different belief systems, and they’re all just being goofy,” Davis says. “It’s priceless.”

As The Que Pastas’ onstage success grew, it caught the attention of John Dufilho, a Little Forest Hills neighbor who is the lead singer in the Dallas-based rock band, Deathray Davies. Dufilho helped the duo film a pilot episode for a potential TV show, “Go Camino, Go!”

The idea is to combine “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” “Flight of the Conchords” and “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” into a children’s show. Each episode will feature an interview and song with two everyday kids who are brave enough to try extraordinary things, Davis says.

In the pilot, The Que Pastas travel in Davis’ 1987 El Camino to the Dallas Zoo to interview the junior zookeepers. Then they’re off to meet 10-year-old orator and Dallas ISD student Skye Turner at Davis’ alma mater, Bishop Lynch, to learn about public speaking.

Where will the El Camino take them next? The production studio, 12 Forward Entertainment, founded by Melanie and Terry Wester, is distributing the pilot to different broadcasting services like Netflix and KERA, Dallas’ PBS station. If picked up for a full season, the pair could be hitting the road again. 

“In the adult music world, there’s so much ego,” Davis says. “In this kindie world, it’s like, ‘How can I help you out?’ It’s such a kind community of like-minded, high-energy weirdos.” 

Catch a show:

When: 1 p.m. June 23

Where: Pocket Sandwich Theatre, 5400 E. Mockingbird Lane

Cost: $7-$10


WANT MORE?
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.